Park brands missile plan by North as ‘desperate’

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Park brands missile plan by North as ‘desperate’

President Park Geun-hye on Thursday warned that United Nations Security Council sanctions are the only way to bring a halt to Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, following North Korea’s move to test a long-range missile, which she called a “desperate measure.”

“The only way to stop North Korea’s misjudgment is strong UN sanctions and for the international community to make it realize that it cannot survive unless it abandons its nuclear program,” Park said in a statement to South Koreans read by Kim Sung-woo, senior presidential press secretary, on Thursday.

“North Korea announcing it will launch a long-range missile after its [Jan. 6] nuclear test cannot be tolerated as it is an act posing a threat to the Korean Peninsula and international peace,” she said.

Park pointed out in the statement that North Korea is “announcing another provocation even while UN sanctions are being discussed,” and that it is a way of demonstrating it is not afraid of these measures. This is “a desperate measure to maintain the North Korean regime [in power] with no intention of enabling peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea informed international organizations on Tuesday that it will launch an Earth observation satellite on a rocket between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25 and between 7 a.m. and noon Pyongyang time. The launch is widely considered a disguised test of ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 was immediately condemned by the international community. The UN Security Council is currently drafting a resolution with punitive measures in response but struggling to get the support of China and Russia, permanent members of the council.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a joint meeting of senior officials of the North’s Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and the Korean People’s Army’s Party Committee in Pyongyang, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Thursday.

Kim expounded on his “my-way” policy at the meeting, ordering his military’s allegiance to him as the party prepares for its seventh congress in May, the first since 1980.

He said in the meeting that the People’s Army “has to head in the direction” that he decides upon, the KCNA reported.

“This meeting served as a midterm review ahead of the Workers’ Party congress in May, which is symbolic of the start of the Kim Jong-un era,” Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea studies professor at Korea University, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday. “It made clear that a Kim Jong-un-centric system is being bolstered.”

The Ministry of National Defense said that it will take measures to intercept any missiles or debris that may fall on South Korean territory or into its seas should North Korea launch a long-range rocket.

Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said in a briefing on Thursday that “depending on if it falls within our territory and the amount of damage, we will take self-defensive measures.”

Moon said that the South’s military is monitoring Pyongyang’s effort to launch a long-distance ballistic missile with close cooperation with the United States through its radar systems and Aegis destroyers, and is prepared to intercept the North’s missile with its PAC-2 (Patriot Advanced Capability-2) missiles. U.S. Forces Korea’s PAC-3 missiles may be dispatched depending on its need.

In addition to bolstering the military’s defense posture and working on diplomatic means for stronger sanctions on Pyongyang through the UN Security Council, the Blue House is also considering the option of shutting down the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Some 124 South Korean companies operate factories at the North Korean industrial complex that employs 54,000 workers.

“Shutting down or pulling out from the Kaesong Industrial Complex completely depends on how North Korea acts,” a Blue House official said.

China’s influence over Pyongyang is being questioned as North Korea announced its purported satellite launch to United Nations agencies despite Beijing’s chief nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, making a furtive three-day visit to Pyongyang that started on Tuesday.

Wu, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, returned to Beijing on Thursday and told reporters at the airport, “I said what had to be said,” but added, “I am not sure what the results will be.”

His words seemed to indicate that his talks with North Korean officials may not have yielded much.

Wu was the first senior Chinese diplomat to visit Pyongyang since its fourth nuclear test.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said later that day that Wu met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan and his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho, chief negotiator to the stalled six-party talks.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said they discussed “bilateral relations and the current situation on the Korean Peninsula” without elaborating.

In a briefing on Wednesday following North Korea’s announcement, Lu said that it “has the right to make peaceful use of the space, but this right is subject to restrictions of the Security Council resolutions.” He encouraged Pyongyang to “exercise restraint.”

The spokesman indirectly blamed the United States for the halt in denuclearization talks with the North, saying, “It is regrettable that due to some well-known reasons which have nothing to do with China… the six-party talks have come to a standstill.”

In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said a missile launch by Pyongyang “would be an unmistakable slap in the face to those who argue that you just need to show patience and dialogue with the North Koreans but not sanctions.”

In an editorial, China’s state-run Global Times warned Pyongyang against launching a long-range rocket, saying “it will pay a new price” if it goes ahead with the launch.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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